Deaditorial: Horror’s Perspective Problem, or How to Save the “FRIDAY THE 13TH” FranchiseMovies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Let’s face it, horror fans: the so-call classics of the genre will never be left alone. If there is a brand to be taken advantage of, or an angle that works that can be twisted or warped for a contemporary audience, then it will happen. It’s inevitable, and as much as it sucks to imagine that we’ll ostensibly live in a world where the HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchises will outlive us, there’s not much we could do to stop it, even if they’re coming at rate of one or two entries per decade.
But in terms of remakes, reboots, recalibrations and whatever else you’d like to call it, that’s not a death knell to the genre or franchise either. Technically, reboots are somewhat less vilified in that sense because they serve to celebrate the franchise that came before it, bringing back old characters or storylines and continuing them X amount of years later as opposed to remaking the first film beat by beat. In fact, if you look back at many of these franchises, an injection of new blood is what kept them such memorable properties as they are; after all, ELM STREET rebooted after Part 2, HALLOWEEN after Part 3 and FRIDAY THE 13TH after part 5. And the major franchises that haven’t rebooted or been remade have found themselves pushed towards direct-to-video territory, such as HELLRAISER and CHILD’S PLAY.
When the term “reboot” or “remake” gets bandied about, however, fans often times will disregard any talent that’s involved because of the amount of times they’ve been burnt in the pursuit of studios making money. And we can’t really blame them either; for every LET ME IN or DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, there’s five THE FOG’s or THE HITCHER’s to sully and disappoint. But the truth is the problem is never really quantity; after all, during the slasher boom of the ’80s, there is an equal amount of classics as there are rotten eggs in the bunch, yet the era is looked about with absolute reverence compared to the equally fruitful found footage subgenre or modern zombie genre. The problem is that these films, if not lacking in talent, lack in perspective, or in a clearer terms, the resistance to take imaginative risks with core elements of what makes those franchise work.
For instance, when one looks at the FRIDAY THE 13TH reboot that’s currently underway, one can’t fault the talent involved: even if Platinum Dunes has a spotty track record at best, the involvement of the incredibly talented David Bruckner should be a cause for celebration. There’s no denying that Bruckner’s segment of V/H/S was among, and still remains, one of the best entries of the franchise, and his work in THE SIGNAL is further indication that we’re not only going to get a creative new entry in the franchise, but one from a skilled storyteller. But when word leaks out about how Platinum Dunes has met with filmmaker after filmmaker about how they would approach FRIDAY THE 13TH as a found footage or 3D endeavor, or how they want to do the film for less than half the budget of the last entry despite it pulling in millions upon millions, then you realize that the creative side of things is what is being underserved and restricted. And it’s those warning signs that what make horror fans who didn’t immediately write off a reboot begin to distance themselves from cautious optimism.
When it comes to the next installment of FRIDAY THE 13TH, those gimmicks and limitations make it painfully obvious that the filmmakers aren’t trying to find new ways to approach the franchise, because there are tons of new ways to approach the franchise and still make money. Instead, the producers and studio are trying to find a way to maximize profits, and as businessmen, that’s a logical route that no one can really fault them for. But in that approach, while you might make money tricking casual moviegoers into seeing your film, you’re hurting the profits of the next film; after all, aren’t those who were disappointed by Nispel’s FRIDAY THE 13TH reboot going to avoid the next potential reboot as well, just in the same way that those burnt by PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 are going to avoid the creatively clever THE MARKED ONES?
So, what can be done to save the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise? Clearly, it’s not going to stop, and Jason Voorhees is too popular of a horror icon to let sleeping dogs lie. And while getting a talented filmmaker and writer on board can help ensure a strong story for the next FRIDAY THE 13TH film, that’s not necessarily going to guarantee audiences will get in the seats either, especially apprehensive fans of the original franchise or savvy younger audiences who feel that it’s more of the same. But what exactly is the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, anyway? It’s always been a slasher franchise, but beyond the structure of the series’ many entries, it’s overall been a campfire legend brought to life: a little boy drowned on the campgrounds, and now he’s come back to get revenge on those who dare return. And right there, in front of everyone’s eyes, is the angle that can save the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise.
Everyone loves a good urban legend, and with today’s larger-than-life internet culture, a good, nostalgic ghost story can raise the hairs on even the most cynical young horror fan. And frankly, all that it takes to bring the hardcore horror fans back into the fold is a respect for the rugged, bloodier aspects that made the original film work. So instead of refashioning Jason Voorhees into a territorial survivalist, or a psychopath, why not return him to being what he’s best been: a ghost story that hosts a perpetual sense of dread with the afterthought of “whodunit” mystery. Surely, fans don’t mind seeing a group of pretty actors running around the woods, meeting grisly fates, but by handling Jason Voorhees with the tiniest hint of mystery and supernatural leaning, the character becomes scary and memorable once more.
In fact, the found footage and 3D approaches highlight exactly what shouldn’t work about the character, since you’re emphasizing the fact that you’ll be showing Jason in a new light. But perhaps what we don’t need is for Jason to be shown to us: after all, we should trust the filmmaker to get around to the Voorhees business while still bringing the blood, and frankly, straightforward terror is more of Leatherface’s shtick anyways. But what we need to emphasize about the character is that he shouldn’t exist, since Jason is supposed to have died, many, many years ago. By just simply playing with expectations and giving the audience a reasonable doubt, the filmmakers can still tell a story of teens graphically dying by the way of a hulking, malformed maniac but through the operative lens of a ghost story: does Jason exist, as the whispered campfire tales say, or is there someone else out there killing these kids?
Of course, there’s no denying that this approach is one that is controversial in the sense that, if you don’t deliver Jason, you’re playing with fire. After all, general horror audiences turned very quickly on the likes of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5 and HALLOWEEN III once their fan service was not delivered properly. But when people remember the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, the main reason the film holds up is just how unexpectedly Miss Voorhees enters the equation, and just how scary she becomes when her true colors are shown. The shocking climax of the film is just a breath-taking cherry on top, and one served as inspiration that Jason just might be more than legend.
But by forgetting that Jason is, at heart, a ghost story, you’re forgetting about what makes the character so scary, and you’re abandoning a potentially new way to tell a classic story. And often times, it’s the ideas that are right in front of the eyes of the audience that are the most scary in terms of perspective. For instance, we’ve seen the story of Laurie Strode through her eyes, but for a story about a babysitter being stalked by a murderer, why don’t we tell the same story through the eyes of the children she’s watching and reinvigorate the “boogeyman” aspect to Michael Myers? And for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, a tale of suburban horror that takes place less than a decade after the Vietnam War, in which such atrocities like the My Lai Massacre occurred, why not find out what inspired Fred Krueger’s impulses to kill children? All you would need is a change of perspective on something that already exists; it’s the reason why found footage worked in the first place, but it’s become secondary to budgetary restraints and catering to trends that are honestly out of style.
And so we’re left with the same problem as before: fans that don’t trust reboots and remakes, and studios that have no intention in not making them. Yet, here we are, on Friday the 13th, talking about a franchise that’s so close to the heart of horror, all on a day that is supposed to represent the darker side of fate and luck. The fans love Jason Voorhees, but we love him as the monster he is, and we want to see him return as something truly scarier than the viscera one can find on the nightly news. After all, it’s the sinister side of the irrational, illogical and inexplicable that makes Friday the 13th give us the heebie jeebies, and reminds us just how creepy a simple mark on the calendar can be.